When watching football games on Sundays you may have noticed penalties called only for the ref to say the “tight end was covered up ” or “receiver was covered up”.
The trouble is the vast majority of fans do not know what the officials are saying when they make this call. In short a covered receiver is a penalty that is called for an illegal formation, specifically for having too many players on the line of scrimmage.
On any given play the offense is to have at least seven players on the line of scrimmage. Five of these players are going to be offensive linemen. The other two being receivers with one receiver on the line of scrimmage on each side of the formation.
The other receivers on the field must remain one yard behind the line of scrimmage. This is why you will notice that the slot receiver and one of the outside receivers will usually be one foot from the line of scrimmage.
This penalty is called when eligible receivers on the same side of the formation are on the line of scrimmage.
Say there is an outside receiver on the line of scrimmage and the tight end is also on the line of scrimmage. This would make the tight end covered.
Say an outside receiver is on the line of scrimmage and a slot receiver on his side of the field is on the line of scrimmage as well. This would make the slot receiver covered.
Essentially a covered receiver is an eligible receiver on the line of scrimmage who is not on the outside of the formation. If you are on the line of scrimmage as a wide receiver you cannot have another receiver lined up outside you on the line of scrimmage as well.
Why Is It Illegal
The idea behind this rule is that eligible receivers on the line of scrimmage will line up on the outside of the formation. This way a receiver cannot start to run a route out of the middle of the formation.
By having a set number of players allowed on the line of scrimmage the defense is able to identify which players are receivers and which players are blockers.
If a player lined up on the line of scrimmage in the middle of the formation then runs down field this is going to be nearly impossible for the defense to cover them. This is because they will not be able to identify which players in the formation are receivers.
By having clearly stated rules regarding where receivers can line up the defense will be able to key in on who they have to cover.
What Is The Penalty For Covering A Receiver?
The penalty for covering a receiver is an illegal formation. An illegal formation penalty is a five-yard penalty and does not incur a loss of a down.
These penalties are relatively rare and in most cases occur when one of the receivers make a mental mistake. As a receiver whether you are able to line up on the line of scrimmage or not based on the play.
If multiple receivers on the same side of the formation line up on the line of scrimmage then one of them has made a mistake.
Oftentimes the officials may even make a comment to the receiver that he needs to be off the line in order to make the formation legal.